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"The Life of Prayer"
By A. B. Simpson
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Pattern Prayer
Chapter 2: Encouragements to Prayer
Chapter 3: In His Name
Chapter 4: The Prayer of Faith
Chapter 5: Hindrances to Prayer
Chapter 1 The Pattern Prayer
"And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil." Luke 11:2-4
This wonderful prayer was dictated by our Lord in reply to the question on the part of His disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray." His answer was to bid them pray. This is the only way we shall ever learn to pray, by just beginning to do it. And as the babbling child learns the art of speech by speaking, and the lark mounts up to the heights of the sky by beating its little wings again and again upon the air, so prayer will teach us how to pray; and the more we pray, the more shall we learn the mysteries and heights and depths of prayer.
And the more we pray, the more we shall realize the incomparable fullness and completeness of this unequaled prayer, the prayer of universal Christendom, the common liturgy of the Church of God, the earliest and holiest recollection of every Christian child, and the latest utterance often of the departing soul. We who have used it most have come to feel that there is no want which it does not interpret and no holy aspiration which it may not express. There is nothing else in the Holy Scriptures which more fully evolves the great principles that underlie the divine philosophy of prayer.
It teaches us that all true prayer begins in the recognition of the Father.
It is not the cry of nature to an unknown God, but the intelligent converse of a child with his heavenly Father. It presupposes that the suppliant has become a child, and it assumes that the mediation of the Son has preceded the revelation of the Father. No one, therefore, can truly pray until he has accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and received through Him the child-heart in regeneration, and then been led into the realization of sonship in the family of God. The Person to whom prayer is directly addressed is the Father as distinguished from the Son and the Holy Ghost. The great purpose of Christ's mediation is to bring us to God and reveal to us the Father as our Father in reconciliation and fellowship. It is not wrong to address the Son and Spirit in our hearts. The name suggests the spirit of confidence, and this is essential to prayer.
The first view given of God in the Lord's Prayer is not His majesty but His paternal love. To the listening disciples this must have been a strange expression from the lips of their Lord as a pattern for them. Never had Jewish ear heard God so named, at least in His relation to the individual. The Father of the Nation He was sometimes called, but no sinful man had ever dared to call God his Father.
They, doubtless, had heard their Master speak in this delightful name of God as His Father, but that they should call Jehovah by such a name had never dawned upon their legal and unillumined minds. And yet it really means that we may and should recognize that God is our Father in the very sense in which He is His Father, and ours as partakers of His Sonship and His Name. The Name expresses the most personal and tender love, protection, care, and intimacy; and it gives to prayer, at the very outset, the beautiful atmosphere of the home circle and the delightful affectionate and intimate fellowship of friend with friend.
Beloved, have you thus learned to pray? Do wondering angels look down upon your closet every day to see a humble and sinful creature of the dust talking to the majestic Sovereign of the skies, as an infant lies upon its mother's breast or prattles without a fear upon her knee? Can it be said to you, "I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father"?
It teaches us that prayer should recognize the majesty and almightiness of God.
The words, "who art in heaven," or, rather, "in the heavens," are intended to give to the conception of the Divine Being a very definite and local personality. He is not a vague influence or pantheistic presence, but a distinct Person, exalted above matter and nature and having local habitation, to which the mind is directed, and where He occupies the throne of actual sovereignty over all the universe. He is also recognized as above our standpoint and level, in the heavens, higher than our little world, and exalted above all other elements and forces that need His controlling power. It enthrones Him in the place of highest power, authority and glory.
And so true prayer must ever recognize at once the nearness and greatness of God. The Old Testament, therefore, is full of the sublimest representation of the majesty of God, and the more fully we realize His greatness, the more boldly will we dare to claim His interposition in prayer in all our trials and emergencies.
Beloved, have we learned, as we bow the knee in prayer, that we are talking with Him Who still says to us as to Abraham, "I am El Shaddai, the Almighty God"; to Jeremiah, "I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?"; to Isaiah, "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding."
It teaches us that prayer is no t only a fellowship with God but a fellowship of human hearts.
"Our Father" lifts each of us at once out of ourselves, and, if nowhere else on earth, at least at the throne of grace, makes us members one of another. Of course, it is assumed that the first link in the fellowship is Christ, our Elder Brother, and so there is no single heart, however isolated, but that may come with this prayer with perfect truthfulness, and hand in hand with Christ say, "Christ's and mine." But, undoubtedly, it chiefly refers to the fellowship of human hearts. The highest promises made to prayer are those who agree, or, as the Greek more beautifully expresses it, "symphonize" on earth. There is no place where we can love our friends so beautifully or so purely as at the throne of grace. There is no exercise in which the differences of Christians melt away as when their hearts meet together in the unity of prayer, and there is no remedy for the divisions of Christianity but to come closer to the Father, and then, perforce, we shall be in touch with each other.
It teaches us that worship is the highest element in prayer.
"Hallowed be thy name" is more than any petition of the Lord's Prayer. It brings us directly to God Himself and makes His glory supreme, above all our thoughts and all our wants. It reminds us that the first purpose of our prayers should ever be, not the supply of our personal needs, but the worship and adoration of our God. In the ancient feasts everything was first brought to Him, and then it was given to the worshiper in several cases for his use, and its use was hallowed by the fact that it had already been laid at Jehovah's feet. And so the spirit that can truly utter this prayer and fully enter into its meaning can receive all the other petitions of it with double blessing. Not until we have first become satisfied with God Himself and realize that His glory is above all our desires and interests are we prepared to receive any blessing in the highest sense; and when we can truly say, "Hallowed be thy name whatever comes to me," we have the substance of all blessing in our heart.
This is the innermost chamber of the Holy of Holies, and none can enter it without becoming conscious of the hallowing blessing that falls upon and fills us with the glory which we have ascribed to Him. The sacred sense of His overshadowing, the deep and penetrating solemnity, the heavenly calm, that fills the heart which can truly utter these sacred words, constitute a blessing above all other blessings that even this prayer can ask.
Beloved, have we learned to begin our prayer in this holy place, on this heavenly plane? Then, indeed, have we learned to pray.
It teaches us that true prayer recognizes the establishment of the Kingdom of God as the chief purpose of the divine will and the supreme desire of every true Christian.
More than our own temporal or even spiritual needs are we to pray for the establishment of that Kingdom. This implies that the real remedy for all that needs prayer is the restoration of the Kingdom of God. The true cause of all human trouble is that men are out of the divine order and the world is in rebellion against its rightful Sovereign, and not until that Kingdom is reestablished in every heart and in all the world can the blessings which prayer desires be realized. Of course, it includes in a primary sense the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the individual heart, but much more in the world at large, in fulfillment of God's great purpose of redemption.
It is, in short, the prayer for the accomplishment of redemption and its glorious consummation in the coming of our Lord and the setting up of His Millennial Kingdom. What an exalted view this gives of prayer! How it raises us above our petty selfish cares and cries! It is said of a devoted minister, Dr. Backus, of Baltimore, that when told he was dying and had only half an hour to live, he asked them to raise him from his bed and place him upon his knees, and he spent the last half hour of his life in one ceaseless prayer for the evangelization of the world. Truly that was a glorious place to end a life of prayer! But the Lord's Prayer begins with this lofty theme and teaches us that it should ever be the first concern and petition of every loyal subject of the Redeemer's Kingdom.
Must it not be true, beloved, that the failure of many of our prayers may be traced to their selfishness, and the innumerable efforts we have spent upon our own interests, and the little we have ever asked for the Kingdom of our Lord? There is no blessing so great as that which comes when our hearts are lifted out of self and become one with Christ in intercession for others and for His cause. There is no joy so pure as that of taking the burden of our Master's cause on our hearts and bearing it with Him every day in ceaseless prayer, as though its interests wholly depended upon the uplifting of our hands and the remembrance of our faith. "Prayer shall be made for him continually," is one of the promises respecting our blessed Lord.
Beloved, have we prayed for Jesus as much as we have for ourselves? There is no ministry which will bring more power and blessing upon the world and from which we ourselves will reap larger harvests of eternal fruit than the habit of believing, definite and persistent prayer for the progress of Christ's Kingdom, for the needs of His church and work, for His ministers and servants, and especially for the evangelization of the world and the vast neglected myriads who know not how to pray for themselves. Oh, let us awaken from our spiritual selfishness and learn the meaning of the petition, "Thy kingdom come!"
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It teaches us that true prayer is founded upon the will of God as its limitation and encouragement.
It is not asking for things because we want them, for the primary condition of all true prayer is the renunciation of our own will that we may desire and receive God's will instead. But having done this and recognizing the will of our Father as the standard of our desires and petitions, we are to claim these petitions when they are in accordance with His will with a force and tenacity as great as the will of God itself. And so this petition, instead of being a limitation of prayer, is really a confirmation of our faith, and gives us the right to claim that the petition thus conformed to His will shall be imperatively fulfilled. Therefore, there is no prayer so mighty, so sure, so full of blessing, as this little sentence at which so many of us have often trembled, "Thy will be done."
It is not the death-knell of all our happiness, but the pledge of all possible blessing; for if it is the will of God to bless us, we shall be blessed. Happy are they who suspend their desires until they know their Father's will, and then, asking according to His will, they can rise to the height of His own mighty promise, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." "Thus saith the Lord, . . . Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me." What more can we ask of ourselves and others than that God's highest will, and that for us, shall be fulfilled?
How shall we know that will? At the very least, we may always know it by His Word and promise, and we may be very sure we are not transcending its infinite bounds if we ask anything that is covered by a promise of His Holy Word, but we may immediately turn that promise into an order on the very Bank of Heaven and claim its fulfillment by all the power of His omnipotence and the sanctions ' of His faithfulness. Why, the very added clause itself, "as it is in heaven," implies that the fulfillment of this petition would change earth into a heaven and bring heaven into every one of our lives in the measure which we meet this lofty prayer! This petition, therefore, while it implies the spirit of absolute submission, rises to the height of illimitable faith.
Beloved, have we understood it and learned thus to pray, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"?
It teaches us that prayer may include all our natural and temporal wants and should be accompanied by the spirit of trustful dependence upon our Father's care for the supply of all our earthly needs.
"Give us this day our daily bread," gives to every child of God the right to claim a Father's supporting and providing love. It is wonderful how much spiritual blessing we get by praying and trusting for temporal needs. They greatly curtail the fullness of their spiritual life and separate God's personal providence from the most simple and minute of life's secular interests who try, through second causes or through ample human provision, to be independent of His direct interposition and care. We are to recognize every means of support and temporal link of blessing as directly from His hand, and to commit every interest of business and life to His direction and blessing.
At the same time, it is implied that there must be in this a spirit of simplicity and daily trust. It is not the bread of future days we ask, but the bread of today. Nor is it always luxurious bread, the bread of affluence, the banquet, and the feast, but daily bread, or rather as the best authorities translate it, "sufficient bread," bread such as He sees to be really best for us. It may not be always bread and butter; it may be homely bread, and it may be sometimes scant bread, but He can make even that sufficient and add such a blessing with it and such an impartation of His life and strength as will make us know, like our Master in the wilderness, that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." It implies, in short, a spirit of contentment and satisfaction with our daily lot and a trust that leaves tomorrow's needs in His wise and faithful hand to care for us day by day as each new morrow comes.
Beloved, have you thus learned to pray for temporal things, bringing all your life to God? bringing it in the spirit of daily trust and thankful contentment with your simple lot and your Father's wisdom and faithfulness?
It teaches Us that true prayer must ever recognize our need of the mercy of God.
There are two versions of this petition, "Forgive us our trespasses," and "Forgive us our debts." This is not accidental. There may be an honest consciousness in the heart of the suppliant that there has been no willful or known disobedience or sin, and yet there may be infinite debt, omission, and shortcoming as compared with the high standard of God's holiness and even our own ideal. The sensitive and thoroughly quickened spirit will never reach a place where it will not be sensible of so much more to which it is reaching out and God is pressing it forward, that it will not need to say, "Forgive us our debts," even where perhaps it could not conscientiously say, "Forgive us our transgressions."
This sense of demerit on our part throws us constantly upon the merits and righteousness of our Great High Priest and makes our prayers forevermore dependent on His intercession and offered in His name. This enables the most unworthy to "come boldly unto the throne of grace" to "obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." We do not mean that our dear Lord encourages us to expect to be constantly sinning and repenting, for the final petition of this prayer is for complete deliverance from all evil, but He graciously stoops to the lowest level and yet grades the prayer so as to cover the experience of the highest saint, to meet the finer sense of the most sanctified spirit as well as the coarser consciousness of actual sin on the part of the humblest penitent.
This petition presupposes a very solemn spirit of forgiveness in the heart of the suppliant. This is indispensable to the acceptance of the prayer for forgiveness. The Greek construction and the use of the aorist tense expresses a very practical shade of meaning, namely, that the forgiveness of the injury that has been done to us has preceded our prayer for divine forgiveness. Freely translated it should be thus expressed, "Forgive us our trespasses as we have already forgiven them that trespassed against us."
There are certain spiritual states, therefore, that are indispensable to acceptable prayer, even for the simplest mercies, and without which we cannot pray. The soul that is filled with bitterness cannot approach God in communion. Inferentially, it must therefore be true that the soul that is cherishing any other sin and sinful state is thereby hindered from access to the throne of grace. This is an Old Testament truth that all the abundant grace of the New Testament has not provoked nor weakened. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me," was a lesson which even David learned in his sad and solemn experience. "I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar," is the eternal condition of acceptable communion with the Holy One. The most sinful may come for mercy, but they must put away their sin and freely forgive the sins of others. Above all others there seem to be two unpardonable sins, one, the sin which willfully rejects the Holy Ghost and the Saviour presented by Him, that is, the sin of willful unbelief; and the other, the sin of unforgivingness.
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It teaches us that prayer is our true weapon and safeguard in the temptations of life, and that we may rightly claim the divine protection from our spiritual adversaries.
This petition, "Lead us not into temptation," undoubtedly covers the whole field of our spiritual conflicts and may be interpreted, in the largest sense, of all we need to arm us against our spiritual enemies. It cannot strictly mean that we pray to be kept from all temptation, for God Himself has said, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation," and "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation," and, "Let patience have her perfect work." It rather means, "Lead us not into a crisis of temptation," "and lead us so that we shall not fall under temptation or be tried above what we are able to bear." There are spiritual trials and crises which come to souls, too hard for them to bear, snares into which multitudes fall; and this is the peculiar promise which this prayer claims, that they shall not come into any such crisis, but shall be kept out of situations which would be too trying, carried through the places which would be too narrow, and kept safe from peril.
This is what is meant by the word "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations," and also the still more gracious promise in First Corinthians 10:13: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." When we think how many there are who perish in the snare, and how narrow the path often is, oh, what comfort it should give us to know that our Lord has authorized us to claim His divine protection in these awful perils to meet the wiles of the devil and the insidious foes against whom all our skill would be unavailing!
This was the Master's own solemn admonition to His disciples, in the garden in the hour and power of darkness, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," and this was His own safeguard in that hour. The apostle has given it to us as the unceasing prescription of wisdom and safety in connection with our spiritual conflict, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving."
The crowning petition of the Lord's Prayer is a petition for entire sanctification, including deliverance from every other form of evil.
"Deliver us from evil." This has frequently been translated "from the evil one," but the neuter gender contradicts this and renders it most natural to translate it, as the old version does, of evil in all forms rather than the author of evil. This is more satisfactory to the Christian heart. There are many forms of evil which do not come from the evil one. We have as much cause to pray against ourselves as against the devil. And there are physical evils covered by this petition as well as special temptations. It is a petition, therefore, against sin, sickness and sorrow in every form in which they could be evils. It is a prayer for our complete deliverance from all the effects of the Fall, in spirit, soul and body. It is a prayer which echoes the fourfold gospel and the fullness of Jesus in the highest and widest measure. It teaches us that we may expect victory over the power of sin, support against the attacks of sickness, triumph over all sorrow and a life in which all things shall be only good and work together for good according to God's high purpose. Surely the prayer of the Holy Ghost for such a blessing .is the best pledge of the answer! Let us not be afraid to claim it in all its fullness.
All prayer should end with praise and believing confidence.
The Lord's Prayer, according to the most correct manuscripts, really ends with "Deliver us from evil," but later copies contain the closing clause, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen." And while it is extremely doubtful whether our Lord uttered these words, yet they have so grown into the phraseology of Christendom that we may, without danger, draw from them our closing lessons.
The doxology expresses the spirit of praise and consecration. We ascribe to God the authority and power to do what we have asked, and give the glory of it to His name; and then, in token of our confidence that He will do so, we add the Amen, which simply means "So let it be done." In fact, it is faith ascending to the throne and humbly claiming and commanding in the name of Jesus that for which humility has petitioned. Our Lord does require this element of faith and this acknowledgment and attestation of His faithfulness as a condition of answered prayer. No prayer is complete therefore until faith has added its "Amen."
Such, then, are some of the principle teachings of this universal prayer. How often our lips have uttered it! Beloved, has it searched our hearts this day and shown us the imperfection, the selfishness, the smallness, the unbelief of what we call prayer? Let us henceforth repeat .its pregnant words with deeper thoughtfulness and weigh them with more solemn realization than we have done before, until they shall come to be to us what they indeed are, the summary of all prayer, the expression of all possible need and blessing and the language of a worship like that of the holy ranks who continually surround the throne above. Then indeed shall His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Beautiful and blessed prayer! How it recalls the most sacred associations of life! How it follows the prodigal even in his deepest downfall and his latest moments! How it expands with the deepening spiritual life of the saint! How it wafts the latest aspirations and adorations of the departing Christian to the throne to which he is ready to wing his way! Let it be more dear to us henceforth, more real, more deep, wider and higher, as it teaches us to pray and wings our petition to the throne of grace. And oh, if there be any one reading these words now who has often uttered it without having any right to say "Our Father," or any real ability to enter into its heart-searching meaning, may you this very moment, beloved reader, stop; and as you think with tears of the lips that once taught you its tender accents years ago, but that are silent now in the molding grave, kneel down at the feet of that mother's God, that father's God, that sister's God; and if you are willing to say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us," you may dare to add, linked in everlasting hope and fellowship with those that first voiced those words to you, "Our Father, which art in heaven."
On a lonely bed in a Southern hospital, a soldier lay dying. A Christian friend called to see him and tried to speak of Christ, but was repelled with infidel scorn. Once or twice he tried in vain to reach his heart, but at last simply knelt down by the bed and tenderly repeated the Lord's Prayer, slowly and solemnly. When he arose to leave, the infidel's eyes were wet with tears. He tried to brush them away and conceal his feelings, but at last broke down and said, "My mother taught me that more than fifty years ago, and it quite broke me up to hear it again." The missionary passed away, not wishing to hinder the voice of God. The next time he called, the patient had disappeared. Sending for the nurse he asked about him and was told that a night or two before the soldier had died, but just before the end she heard him repeating the words, "Our Father, who art in heaven," and then he seemed to add in a husky voice, "Mother, I am coming! He is my Father, too."
Dear friend, let this old prayer become to you a holy bond with all that is dearest on earth and a stepping-stone to the very gates of heaven!
Continue to Chapter 2